Monday, April 30, 2012

Picture Book (History): Pompeii Lost and Found (Osborne)

Summary of Pompeii: Lost and Found (by Mary Pope Osborne):
Osborne begins by painting a portrait of life in Pompeii, almost 2000 years ago, before Mount Vesuvius erupted.  People were tending their homes and business, going to school and work, and enjoying leisure activities.  Things changed though on August 24, AD 79.  The sea became choppy.  Streams suddenly dried up.  Animals began acting out of the ordinary.  Then, a huge volcanic blast hit.  It bombarded the town with stones, ash, and poisonous gases until it was completely entombed.  Pompeii is unique because it is the only town of the ancient Roman Empire in which everything was “frozen” in time and untouched for hundreds of years.  As a result, historians and archaeologist have learned a lot about the era and the everyday people.  Osborne describes some of the finding about family life, houses, entertainment (gladiator contests and theater), social gatherings (in bathhouses, courtyards, cobblestone streets, and schools), shopping (a forum or outdoor market), and religious rites (personal shrines and temples).  Then, she returns to the fateful day when everything changed.  Finally, a glimpse of the present day is given where modern era people with cameras and guide books are exploring the ancient ruins.  Bonnie Christensen uses wonderful fresco paintings in muted colors to reflect the popular art form of the era and to depict life in Pompeii at the time of the devastating natural disaster.   

Mary Pope Osborne is best known for her Magic Tree House series.  She knows how to write in order to captivate a young audience.  Pompeii: Lost and Found is an example of her power to engage.  The text reads more like a fascinating and mysterious narrative rather than a stiff factual account.  Christensen’s sweeping frescoes are an essential part of the storytelling (see example below).  They reveal common tools found on the site as well as some of the residence fossilized as the ash encompassed them.  The illustrations, also, depict everyday life—meals, theater, children’s games, marketplace, and so forth.  I highly recommend this book for ages 8 and up. 

Teaching Opportunities
  • Science:  learn about volcanoes--what causes them to form and to erupt, what happens to areas after a volcanic eruption (see Gopher to the Rescue which is about an area that slowly revitalizes after a volcano erupted)
  • History:  use this book as part of a unit on ancient Roman or learn more about ancient Roman after reading (see Osborne's Ancient Rome and Pompeii Research Guide)
  • Comparison:  compare/contrast life in Pompeii to life in your city or another historic town
  • Literature Connection:  read a historical fiction book set in Pompeii (see Osborne's Vacation Under the Volcano) or ancient Roman (like the Roman Mystery Series)
  • Poetry:  write a poem describing what you think it would have been like to see and experience Mt. Vesuvius exploding
  • Art:  learn more about the fresco painting technique and create your own fresco paintings
This post is linked up with Non-Fiction Monday at Gathering Books.


  1. Fascinating subject. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention! I will definitely give it a look.

  2. Sounds like a really interesting book. As you know, I love your "teaching opportunities" and I just had to check out the fresco painting technique. Thanks for another great review.

  3. Mary Pope Osborne is an absolute favorite of ours over at GatheringBooks. I didn't realize she wrote a history-themed book. The cover looks gorgeous and as you have pointed out quite a number of things that can be explored as well inside the classroom. Thanks for sharing.

  4. @Myra I know Osborne is best known for her Magic Tree House books, but I have come across other books from her on myths, tall tales, and such. She also has her Research Guide series that are history and science related. She is one of my favorites too. :)


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